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Benevolence, belonging and the repression of white violence.

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  • Racism
  • Race Awareness
  • Race Relations
  • Whites
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • Benevolence
  • Psychology


Research on racism in Australia by white psychologists is often fraught with tensions surrounding a) accounting for privilege, b) the depiction of particular racial minorities, and c) how individual acts of racism are understood. Nowhere is this more evident than in research that focuses on the relationship between Indigenous and white Australians. Such research, as this thesis will demonstrate, has at times failed to provide an account of the ongoing acts of racism that shape the discipline of psychology, and which thus inform how white psychologists in Australia write about Indigenous people. As a counter to this, I outline in this thesis an alternate approach to understanding racism in Australia, one that focuses on the ways in which racism is foundational to white subjectivities in Australia, and one that understands white violence against Indigenous people as an ongoing act. In order to explicate these points, and to examine what they mean in relation to white claims to belonging in Australia, I employ psychoanalytic concepts within a framework of critical psychology in order to develop an account of racism which, whilst drawing on the insights afforded by social constructionist approaches to racism and subjectivity, usefully extends such approaches in order to understand their import for examining racism in Australia. More specifically, I demonstrate how racism in Australia displays what Hook (2005) refers to as a 'psychic life of colonial power', one that implicates all people in histories of racism, and one that highlights the collective psychical nature of racism, rather than understanding it as an individual act. In the analyses that follow from this framework I demonstrate how white privilege and its corollary - the disavowal of Indigenous sovereignty - are warranted by white Australians. To do this, I engage in a textual analysis of empirical data, focusing on both the everyday talk of white Australians as gathered via focus groups and a speech by Prime Minister Howard. In particular, I highlight how claims by white Australians to 'doing good' for Indigenous people (what I refer to as 'benevolence') may in fact be seen to evidence one particular moment where the originary violence of colonisation is yet again played out in the name of the white nation. More specifically, and following Ahmed (2004), I suggest that claims to 'anti-racism' may be seen as 'non-performatives' - they do not require white Australians to actually challenge our unearned privilege, nor to examine how we are located within racialised networks of power. In contrast to this, I sketch out an approach to examining racism, both within the discipline of psychology and beyond, that is accountable for ongoing histories of colonial violence, which acknowledges the role that the discipline often continues to play in the legitimation of race, and which is willing to address the relationship that white Australians are already in with Indigenous Australians.

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